President Trump claimed Friday that Democrats oppose Israel and Jews, reacting in a most incendiary way to the party’s controversy over recent remarks by a Muslim congresswoman, even as Republicans confronted their own divisions over hate speech.
Trump’s remarks came as he blasted a House-passed resolution, proposed by Democrats, to stanch a furor over comments from freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) that were widely criticized as anti-Semitic. All Democrats voted Thursday for the resolution, which generally condemned hate speech without mentioning Omar, but 23 Republicans opposed it.
“I thought yesterday's vote by the House was disgraceful,” the president told reporters as he left the White House for Alabama and Florida. “Because it's become — the Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They've become an anti-Jewish party.”
The president’s divisive talk suddenly shifted attention in the matter from House Democrats, who’d been openly divided and on the defensive all week over Omar’s comments ascribing dual loyalties to pro-Israel Jews. House Republican leaders had remained mostly quiet, to keep the media focus on Democrats’ infighting. Trump’s rhetoric and the Republican defectors’ “no” votes on the anti-hate resolution muddled the politics of the controversy.
“It's been a big problem for Democrats in part because Republicans got out of the way,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist. “The longer this drags on, the harder it is for Republicans to not get dragged into it.”
For Trump, seizing on Democrats’ disarray over the issue was in keeping with his broader effort to paint them as extremists in thrall to the party’s emboldened left wing. Given that, Conant said the president’s latest comment served a purpose: “To the extent that Donald Trump is strategically fanning those flames of division within the Democratic Party, that's smart politics.”
With the new developments, Democrats turned from internal battling to chastising Trump and Republicans again.
“As a Democrat who immediately condemned Rep. Omar's anti-Semitic remarks, let me say that Trump's buffoonish performance here will convince absolutely no one,” said Dan Shapiro, who was a U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Obama. “And people who care about the U.S.-Israel relationship don't do this. Do we have work to do? Sure. His advice we don't need.”
A Somali American and one of the few Muslim members of Congress, Omar said last week that pro-Israel advocates “push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Earlier this year, she apologized for suggesting that Israel’s influence in Washington is based on money.
Critics said her statements rekindled tropes that have been used against Jewish people for centuries. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat, sought to devise a response that would satisfy Jewish Democrats and others outraged by Omar’s comments as well as those, including other minority Democrats, concerned about singling out Omar given Trump’s frequently divisive rhetoric and possibly enabling a backlash of Islamophobia.
Before the vote Thursday, Pelosi explained the decision to pass a resolution after Omar’s comments.
“I don’t think that the congresswoman perhaps appreciates the full weight of how that is heard by other people, although I don’t believe that it was intended in an anti-Semitic way,” Pelosi said. “But the fact is that that’s how it was interpreted. We have to remove all doubt.”
The measure passed by a final vote of 407-23. All Democrats, including Omar, voted for the resolution, which condemned all forms of hate, including Islamophobia and white nationalism.
The 23 Republicans who voted no opposed the resolution mostly because it wasn’t limited to condemning Omar and anti-Semitism. Some said they objected that it didn’t explicitly denounce negative comments about white Christians.
Among the dissenters was Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, who met last year with a Belgian politician who supports banning Muslims from Europe.
“I voted NO on the ridiculous resolution that purported to condemn speech that is not at issue,” Gosar wrote in a tweet. “Rep. Omar has made specific multiple anti-Jewish statements. The resolution failed to mention her or her statements. So I will: I condemn anti-Jewish hate speech by Rep. Omar.”
Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who was stripped of his committee assignments in January after making remarks in defense of white supremacy, voted “present” on the measure.
Trump’s response spurred critics to recall times when he has been criticized for remarks and campaign ads seen as anti-Semitic. As a presidential candidate in 2015, he told an audience of Jewish Republicans they weren’t likely to support him because he didn’t want their money. Following the deadly demonstration in 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., of neo-Nazis who’d chanted “Jews will not replace us,” Trump said there were “fine” people “on both sides” of the confrontation.
The controversy only partly distracted from attention to the sentencing of Paul Manafort, the longtime lobbyist and Trump’s former campaign chairman.
Convicted of tax fraud and other white-collar crimes, Manafort was spared what could have been a sentence of 19 to 24 years and instead was given 47 months in prison.